This 500 is Anybody’s Race

The 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 is a tough one to predict. There is really no clear cut favorite in my view.  I think the winner comes from the first three rows, but he may come from further back. The two engine manufacturers, Chevy and Honda, both have strengths.  This is the closest field in history time wise. there are drivers capable of winning from deep in the field like Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon.

Chevy is the engine with more power. The fastest Honda is fifth on the grid. there are just three Hondas in the top nine. Honda engines will get better fuel mileage and their cars should be better over a long run.  This is where I think a Honda powered car will have an advantage. Will the race end with a long run or will there be a restart with less than 20 laps to go?  The edge then turns to Chevy.

There are several things to watch for in this race.

Weather

The forecast seems to change hourly. The outlook seems to be improving, but it is Indiana in Spring. Doug Boles said this morning we will probably know for certain Sunday morning.  The temperature, which looks to be cooler than 2018, should aid the racing.

If teams see rain coming toward the track, we will see a flurry of pit stops.  Will a team not in the lead pack gamble and stay out hoping the red flag comes out and the race is declared over? It may be worth a gamble.

Passing

Several drivers told me that passing will be difficult from 4th or fifth place and beyond. The driver who can do what Rossi did last year will himself in contention. The top three should be able to pass each other.

Look for most advancement to occur during pit stops.

Row 4

This is the most interesting row in the field.  Marco Andretti, looking to repeat his grandfather’s victory 50 years ago, I think has one of his best shots at winning. he has had speed this week.  Bryan Herta is a master strategist. I think Andretti moves up slowly and steadily and will be there near the end.

Conor Daly has the best ride he has ever had at the Speedway. He took full advantage of it in qualifying 11th.  He will need some breaks to contend for the win, but I think a top is definitely possible, and a top 5 not out of the question.

Helio Castroneves will have a lot of rooting for him to get victory number four. .  He has been rather quiet all month. I’m not sure he has the car to get that elusive  win.  He may only have one more chance after this year.

This row will keep the leaders busy all day. All three will get some time at the front. If the weather and cautions play out in their favor, we could see a surprise winner.

Rookies

It was a mixed qualifying result for the rookies. Colton Herta was the quickest in fifth, and Marcus Ericsson is a respectable 13th.  The other rookies are bunched in the last four rows.  Felix Rosenqvist, because of his crash, is the slowest rookie in 29th.

Herta will be the rookie who stars in this race. Rosenqvist will be one of the biggest movers, but there will need to be significant attrition for him to reach the top 10.

Cautions

As is always the case, cautions will determine the strategy, especially late in the race. There be a fair amount of yellow time this year if we see any crashes like those that occurred in practice.

Once the pits open that will be the busiest part of the track.  Crews will need to execute and the drivers will need to be careful on their exits.

My Calls

Given my track record this year, you would be wise to bet on the drivers I don’t name, but here are my picks. this is a difficult race to call.

Winner-  Ed Carpenter

It is time. Carpenter came close last year. the balance of his car was not as good the second half of the race. The cooler temperatures will take care of the balance problem. He will win a close battle with Alexander Rossi.

Rookie of the Year- Colton Herta

Herta should be past all the gremlins hat have plagued his last three races. We should see the driver we saw at COTA.

Cautions – 6 for 49 laps

These cars seem to have an unpredictable quality about them at times. I just hope that there are no injuries and that any accidents are not multi-car pileups.

I am not figuring in cautions for moisture.

The thing I’m most looking forward to is watching the NBC broadcast and pre-race. if it’s anything like their Kentucky Derby coverage, it will be incredible. I just hope the rain doesn’t spoil their debut.

 

 

Boles: Come Early, Have Safety Plan

Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles outlined plans for Sunday’s 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 this morning.  He addressed attendance, arriving at the track Sunday, and the weather.  His message: come early.

Boles anticipated attendance to be similar to what it was in 2018. “The walkup sales could make it a bit better,” he said. He added that the walkup tickets are weather dependent.

Safety Checks at Gates

Boles encouraged everyone to arrive by 10-10:30 so that fans can be seated for the pre-race ceremonies. There will be a special ceremony honoring Mario Andretti on the 50th anniversary of his 1969 win in the 500.

If it seems as if the line is moving slowly, it is because the bag checks are to ensure everyone’s safety, Boles said. The earlier you get to the track, the faster the lines will move.

Boles encouraged fans who sit north of A stand to walk up Georgetown Road to one of the gates rather than use Gate 1.  The goal is to reduce congestion at the main gate. There will be signs directing people to Gates 5 and 6 on Georgetown as well as PA announcements and staff to help people find a less congested entry.

Parking lots will open at 5 am. Gates to the track open at 6.

Boles emphasized that Drones are not allowed.

Weather Safety

Boles encouraged fans to have a safety plan in place in the event of lightning.  Umbrellas are okay to bring to the track. The Speedway will continuously monitor the weather, but no race decisions will be made before Sunday morniung. An NWS meteorologist is on site.

The current forecast calls for a slight chance of early morning rain and then a better chance after 2pm.  The race may be declared over after 101 laps have been completed.

“We’ll start when the track is dry,” Boles said. The NTT Indycar series is unlikely to move up the start of the race.

Infield Parking Sold Out

If you do not have an infield parking pass and take 16th street to the track, stay in the far left hand lane.  The two right hand lanes will be only for pass holders to enter the Speedway.  It is always a good idea to have a parking spot reserved in advanced somewhere.

Boles said after the race there will be pedestrian traffic on Georgetown Road and the will not begin releasing cars from the lots for 45 minutes to an hour.

ADA parking is also sold out.

Other Notes

If there are weather delays, Boles thinks the latest the race could start would be around 6. He would like fans to able to leave the track before it gets dark.

Race decisions will be made by the series in consultation with the track.

The green flag is at 12:45.

Bump Tales- Janet Guthrie Hits a Wall Then Knocks Another One Down

Above: Janet Guthrie after qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 in 1977, becoming the first woman to drive in the race.  Photo from Indystar archives.

On May 10, 1977, Janet Guthrie had to be wondering why she had entered the  Indianapolis 500.  In 1976, she couldn’t get up to speed. A. J. Foyt loaned her one of his backup cars for a shakedown test. She turned laps good enough to make the race. But it was just a test. The car she was assigned wasn’t fast enough.

Now, early in May, 1977, she had hit the wall. Her team, owned by Rolla Vollstedt, repaired the car, but a second weekend qualifying run looked more likely than the upcoming opening day of qualifying. She struggled to get above 179 mph. it would take a speed in the 180s to make the 1977 race.

Reader Marcia Ann Conder shared these two photos of her father, Larry Conder, assisting Guthrie after her crash. Conder was a fireman at IMS for 40 years. Thanks, Marcia, for the photos.60747620_2049092421885812_8734681045779087360_n

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Guthrie earned a degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Michigan and began racing SCCA events in 1963. In 1976 she became the first woman to drive in a NASCAR superspeedway race, finishing 15 in the Charlotte World 600. Earlier in 1977 she entered the Daytona 500 and finished 12th, earning Rookie of the Year honors.

The week after Pole Day was a long one as the team searched for speed. The third day of qualifying passed with Guthrie next in line as the gun went off. She would be first in line on Sunday, Bump Day. The field wasn’t filled yet, so she just had to get in with the best speed possible without the added pressure of beating someone else’s time.

Guthrie qualified easily with an average of 188.403. Her time was the fastest of the day and she would start the race in the middle of row nine. Guthrie said had the car not crashed she could have easily qualified at 191 mph.

Within a year, Janet Guthrie became the first woman to drive in both a NASCAR  superspeedway race and the Indianapolis 500.

Her spot in the field presented Tony Hulman with a dilemma. He needed to change the command to start the race. Hulman prefaced the traditional command with, “In company of the first woman to start at Indianapolis,” before “Gentleman start your engines.” In subsequent years, the command, when necessary, became, “Lady(ies) and gentleman, start your engines.”

The race itself was not great for Guthrie. A cranky engine had her making numerous pit stops. She retired on lap 74, finishing 29th. I remember the crowd cheered every time she drove past my section.

Guthrie race in just two more 500s, finishing ninth in 1978. She participated in 11 Indycar races overall with a best finish of 5th at Milwaukee in 1979.. Guthrie also drove a total of 33 NASCAR races. Her best finish was sixth at Bristol in 1977.

Eight other women have driven in the Indianapolis 500 since Guthrie’s rookie year. Danica Patrick is the only one to have led the race.

1977 capped a decade and a half of transitions at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race went from roadsters to all rear engine cars, the front stretch was paved to just a yard of bricks, and speeds began to approach 200 mph. More changes would be coming. It would still take another 14 years before the last driver barrier would be broken.

ESPN will air “Qualified,” a 30 for 30 documentary about Janet Guthrie Tuesday, May 28,  at 9 pm EDT.

 

Bump Tales- 1965- Ward Misses 500 After Six Straight Top Fours

Photo from Indianapolis Speedway Museum website

Perhaps it was the switch to a rear-engine car.  Perhaps it was the car. In any case, two time Indianapolis 500 winner Rodger Ward had a difficult time getting up to speed in 1965.  Ward, who reshaped his personal habits and driving style after the 1955 race, entered 1965 with a string of six consecutive top four finishes. His record from 1959-1962 is on of the best four year runs in the history of the Speedway. Ward won in 1959, was second in 1960 after a terrific duel with Jim Rathmann, finished third in 1961, then ran a steady race in 1962 to win again. He followed that streak with fourth in 1963 and a third in 1964.

Ward’s car, a rear engine Ford, had electrical issues the first day on track. The problems were resolved. but the car just wasn’t fast. It seems as if I just heard about this recently. The first qualifying weekend was a struggle for last year’s series runner-up.  Ward used two of his three attempts.  Both were waved off because the team knew the speed wouldn’t hold up. Sometimes teams waved off times that in the end would have been good enough to make the field. Ward’s speed was obviously not going to stand.

After another week of struggling in practice, Ward rolled out of pit lane on the second Saturday to begin his third attempt. On his third warm-up lap, he hit the outside wall in turn 2. The crew worked until 2 am Sunday morning to prepare for Bump Day.  Ward making the race would have been one of the great all time comebacks in qualifying lore.

With just one attempt remaining, Ward rolled out at 5:30 pm, needing to beat Bill Cheesbourg’s speed of 153.774. His first two laps were3 faster than Cheesbourg’s average, but the speed dropped in the second half of the run. Ward missed the 49th 500 Mile Race by .151 miles an hour.

As for Cheesbourg, he survived his second straight year on the bubble. the ;last driver to have aq chance at knocking him out of the race, Bob Mathouser, left pit lane at 5:55. He spun coming off turn four, and the gun went off during the clean up. It was Cheesbourg’s third time since 1957 of waiting until the final gun to make the race. It wasn’t the last time he would be in this situation.

The 1965 race was dominated by Jim Clark in the first rear-engine car to win the 500. Only three front engine roadsters made the race. Their days were numbered.

Ward returned in 1966 and qualified. The race began with an 11 car pileup in the first turn, resulting in a red flag. The rest of the race was a series of caution periods. Only seven cars were running at the finish. Ward finished 15th, completing 74 laps. The car was officially retired with handling problems, but I wonder if Ward  decided he had had enough.

At the next evening’s Victory Dinner, he tearfully announced his retirement from racing, because, “It just wasn’t fun yesterday.”

 

Tomorrow, Bump Tales concludes its 2019 season with a driver breaking a barrier.

The Front Row

I don’t normally get into historical statistics, but this front row fascinates me for several reasons. First Simon Pagenaud and Ed Carpenter are will make the3ir second straight front row starts on Sunday.  Their positions are reversed from 2018. Spencer Pigot’s car number, 21, is the switched number of last year’s third place starter, eventual winner Will Power, 12.

Cars starting in the front row have won 43 of the 102 Indianapolis 500s to date. The pole position leads with 20 victories, the middle of the first row has won 11 times, and the outside staring slot owns 12 wins. Some think the third spot is the best place to be at the start. It was somewhat advantageous in the roadster era, but I’m not sure it works with today’s cars and the jump the pole car seems to get.

It seems odd that all three front row cars carry a number in the 20’s. The top three with a little change in order could have been 20, 21, 22. The last time the entire front row consisted of cars all numbered in the 20s was 2013.  Carpenter (20) on pole, Carlos Munoz (26) in the middle, and Marco Andretti (25) stared on the outside.Carpenter finished 10th, Munoz second, and Andretti 4th.  From my research, that was the only other time the front row cars all bore numbers in the 20s.

I found some other notable cars numbered in the 20s that began the race in the front row, including some race winners- Dario Franchitti (27) in 2007; Emerson Fittipaldi (20) from the pole in 1989, back when he still drank milk. Floyd Roberts (23) won in 1938  also from the pole; and Mauri Rose (27) in 1947.

Fred Agabashian had two front row starts in 1950 and 1952 with car 28. he started second in 1950 and won the pole at a then record speed in 1952. Unfortunately, the Cummins Diesel did not fare well in the races. Agabashian finished 28th and 27th in those races.

I don’t know what the track has in store for these front row starters with the numbers in the 20s on their machines. History looks to be a mixed bag. i think we’ll see a couple of them up front near the end. one of them is looking to be my pick for the win.

 

 

Pagenaud Leads Short Session

Simon Pagenaud jumped to the top of the pylon with his last lap, jumping ahead of teammate Josef Newgarden. His fast lap was 228.441.  The Team Penske drivers nudged ahead of three Honda cars that had led most of the two hour practice. James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, and Alexander Rossi each had the fast time for awhile. Hondas seemed more competitive in race trim than they did in qualifying.

Pagenaud said Rossi will be a force to be reckoned with on race day. He also mentioned that Ed Carpenter and Spencer Pigot will also be contenders. Pagenaud said the warmer temperatures predicted for race day will change the way the cars act.

Tony Kanaan said the times today are insignificant because no one knows what tire or fuel combinations anyone was running.

I have heard from a reliable, non-team related source that Juncos will have a sponsor on the car by race day. I will share all information when Juncos announces it.

Kudos to Clauson-Marshall and Pippa Mann

While everyone was talking about the efforts of Dragonspeed and Ben Hanley and Juncos and Kyle Kaiser, it seems Clauson Marshall Racing and Pippa Mann have been forgotten. This team  came together in The team owners are new to Indycar, which is always an issue. Their alliance with A. J. Foyt Racing helped, but still it was a great achievement to get the car in the race.

I will have more later tonight.